Former Hamburger University worker sues McDonald's, alleging a coworker sexually assaulted and harassed her for years

Kate Taylor
hamburger university
McDonald's faces a new sexual-harassment lawsuit. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
  • A former Hamburger University worker is suing McDonald's, alleging she was sexually harassed and assaulted on the job. 

  • According to the employee, a coworker repeatedly assaulted and harassed her, saying things such as "I saw you there and I couldn't resist, I wanted to feel your ass so bad." 

  • A McDonald's HR investigation concluded that there was no proof of sexual harassment or assault allegations, according to the complaint. 

  • McDonald's said in a statement that the company "does not tolerate harassment or discrimination of any type."

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McDonald's is facing another lawsuit, as a former instructor at Hamburger University alleges she was groped and harassed on the job. 

Last week, Irene Aleman filed a lawsuit claiming that she faced sexual harassment and assault while working at McDonald's training center, called Hamburger University. According to the complaint, Aleman's coworker Kerry Wright began harassing and assaulting her in or around October 2017. 

"In the presence of students and another co-worker, Ms. Wright repeatedly touched and grabbed Plaintiff's derriere and made sexually explicit comments such as 'I saw you there and I couldn't resist, I wanted to feel your ass so bad,'" the complaint reads. 

Aleman alleges she immediately told Hamburger University facilitators about the incident. However, she said, Wright continued to assault and harass her, saying things such as "that skirt looks good on you" and "you have a big butt and breast."

Read more: Insiders reveal how former McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook went from the chain's savior to its worst nightmare as sex-scandal accusations threaten to envelop the fast-food giant

When Aleman told her superior, Raynah D'Souza, about the harassment and assaults, D'Souza responded that Wright must be joking, according the complaint. 

In October 2018, Wright was promoted and Aleman was instructed to report to her. Aleman said in the complaint that she then received negative feedback in which she was told to stop "pushing back" on Wright. 

Aleman said she filed a formal complaint with McDonald's HR in May 2019. The investigation concluded that there was no proof of sexual harassment or assault allegations. According to the complaint, D'Souza continued to create a hostile work environment in the aftermath of the investigation, which caused Aleman to have multiple nervous breakdowns. 

In January, Aleman was told it was in her best interest to leave McDonald's, according to the complaint. 

McDonald's is facing a reckoning on sexual harassment 

McDonald's said in a statement that the company "does not tolerate harassment or discrimination of any type."

"We are a values-led organization committed to fostering a safe and respectful work environment for all employees," the statement continued. "We are reviewing the filing and will investigate these claims fully." 

An attorney for Aleman declined to speak further on the lawsuit. Wright and D'Souza did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment. 

Earlier this year, Florida McDonald's workers filed a $500 million class-action lawsuit, alleging the company has a "systemic sexual harassment problem." Last year, Michigan McDonald's workers filed a class-action lawsuit that argued the fast-food giant failed to address a "systemic problem" of harassment. More than 50 sexual-harassment complaints have been filed by McDonald's workers over the past four years. 

Questions of sexual impropriety within McDonald's corporate office were thrust into the spotlight after the company sued former CEO Steve Easterbrook in August, alleging the executive covered up sexual relationships with three subordinates. McDonald's said it is also investigating actions of the HR department under Easterbrook, who was CEO from 2015 to 2019. 

McDonald's HR department underwent a "top-to-bottom" review after Heidi Capozzi was hired as global chief people officer in April. Capozzi's predecessor, David Fairhurst, was fired after making women at the company uncomfortable, according to an internal HR meeting led by Capozzi. 

Read more: McDonald's HR looks into new training and hiring processes to emphasize corporate values, as the fast-food giant faces controversies

The review of the department follows other efforts to prevent harassment of McDonald's workers. In 2019, McDonald's debuted a hotline that workers can call to express concerns and report harassment. The chain also rolled out a new workplace training program to address harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence.

On Tuesday, Stifel released a report analyzing McDonald's environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) efforts. Analysts concluded that McDonald's has "well-defined and measurable social goals across a range of topics including nutrition, marketing and diversity," but noted there was still some room to grow. 

"While MCD 'checks all the boxes' in terms of board independence and policies around healthy workplace culture, recent events regarding questionable behavior by the former CEO and senior HR leader have led to question about the board's effectiveness in its oversight of senior executives as well as whether the company's actual culture embodies its written policies," the report reads. "While we believe the current leadership team is taking steps to address these issues, we would point out that this area remains a potential risk."

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